The Northwest Arkansas Council has relaunched multiple initiatives in recent weeks to help fill thousands of open jobs in the region.
First, the Council’s industry roundtables for educators, employers and elected officials restarted in late August after a pandemic hiatus.
The roundtables offer a chance for the people training students and the people eventually hiring them to get on the same page and understand each other’s needs. August’s roundtable focused on construction and skilled trades, September’s centered around IT and data science, and this month’s will highlight health care.
“Ultimately the goal is we want to build some relationships,” said Joe Rollins, who has directed workforce development for the Council for four years. “If we do nothing else, that’s a win.”
Second, dozens of computer science and data security apprenticeships launched in September thanks in part to work by Rollins and the Council’s IT workforce specialist, G.B. Cazes.
Programs like these allow entry and mid-level workers to train for higher positions for a year while continuing to draw their salaries. The new positions are among more than 2,000 local apprenticeships that the Council has helped set up across industries, almost half of which are filled by underrepresented groups such as women, people of color and veterans.
And third, the Council is overseeing a survey of NWA high school students to learn about their career interests and better inform school programs preparing them for the workforce. The effort began pre-COVID but halted during the pandemic, and the first results could be ready early next year.
These initiatives are all part of the Council’s work to support the region’s economy, where monthly open jobs have outnumbered jobseekers by thousands for years. On any given day, hundreds of local positions are open, Rollins said. And area students who could thrive as electricians, plumbers or nurses are often unfamiliar with those careers or their benefits.
By linking educators and employers in new ways, students can seamlessly build the knowledge and skills they need for those jobs, whether that’s how to use a certain tool or how to work on a team. Roundtables will continue almost every month, with upcoming sessions this fall and winter dedicated to automotive and logistics and advanced manufacturing.
The Council’s efforts also build off of years of support for job fair events like Build My Future NWA, which gave 900 students from seven school districts hands-on experience with construction and skilled trades last year. Build My Future NWA is set to return for a second year in the spring.
“I need you to invest in what we’re doing in the classroom,” Rollins told dozens of attendees at the August industry roundtable.
Employers, educators and others seeking to join the roundtables or find more information can contact Rollins at email@example.com.